Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jun 2014
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2014 The Gleaner Company Limited


The devil, they say, is in the details. In that regard, we await the 
specifics of the legislative amendments promised by the justice 
minister, Mark Golding, to decriminalise the use of marijuana, or, as 
we call it in Jamaica, ganja.

Nonetheless, this newspaper supports the proposals that have been 
approved by the Cabinet, and outlined by Mr. Golding last week, 
although we believe that even as an initial step, they do not go far enough.

In so far as we understand the plan, to be given effect by 
legislation Mr. Golding says he will table before Parliament goes on 
its summer recess, the most fundamental undertaking will be the 
clearing of criminal records of tens of thousands of people in 
Jamaica, mostly young men who have been convicted for the possession 
of small amounts of ganja.

Additionally, people found with up to two ounces will no longer be 
arrested and taken before the courts on a criminal offence. Rather, 
they will receive a ticket, against which they will pay a fine, 
similar to what now obtains for some types of traffic offences.

The first provision, we think, is a big deal. On the second, the 
administration displays a fretful and illogical caution, the basis of 
which we cannot account.

On the first point, Mr. Golding is right. For as the Chevannes 
committee highlighted over a decade ago, the use of ganja in Jamaica 
is culturally widespread, and hauling people, mostly young, before 
the courts for this and leaving them criminal records that, 
generally, as Mr. Golding put it, impaired their "life prospects". In 
the larger scheme of things, inconsequential ganja cases help to clog 
an already overburdened magistracy. Jamaican courts have a backlog of 
nearly half a million cases.


Having acknowledged the Jamaican cultural norms surrounding the use 
of ganja, and the social and management burdens caused by the 
criminalisation of these norms, we are surprised that the Government 
decided to maintain the possession of a small amount of the drug as 
illegal, even if a decriminalised offence. Further, the proposed 
ticketing system will likely just replace layers of muddling 
bureaucracy and opportunity for corruption.

The rationale for this escapes us, especially taken in the context of 
Mr. Golding's statement about considering the "Jamaican reality" and 
absence of fear the Government has of a blow-back from international 
partners, including the United States. Indeed, two US states, 
Washington and Colorado, have fully legalised the use, growth and 
production, and sale of marijuana and its by-products. In those 
states, people over the age of 21 can have up to two ounces of ganja 
for personal use; up to 16 ounces of cannabis-infused products, such 
as cakes and cookies; and up to 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquid 
products: ganja tea, perhaps! In another 16 US states, the medical 
use of ganja is legal, or the weed is regulated for use in research 
for the development and/or manufacture of medicinal products.

Against that backdrop, we suggest that the possession of small 
amounts of ganja for personal use should not be an offence, which, on 
the face of, would not be out of step with allowing its use as 
religious sacrament, as appears to be intended by the Government. The 
administration should also quickly outline a regime for the 
industrial use and research into ganja.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom